TOMODACHI Food Innovation for Regional Sustainability in Tohoku (FIRST) Program: Japanese Food Industry Leaders Inspired to Ignite Change in Tohoku
From May 1 – May 13, 2017, eight young Japanese leaders dedicated to revitalizing the food industry in Tohoku traveled to Seattle, Washington for the 2017 TOMODACHI Food Innovation for Regional Sustainability in Tohoku (FIRST) Program
This program aims to develop leadership and cross-cultural skills within the next generation of Japanese committed to social innovation in the production, processing, distribution, and/or consumption of food in Tohoku and Japan.
During the program, the delegates were engaged in seminars and visited various organizations around Seattle that spanned the food system. The seminars focused on both leadership and personal reflection, and allowed the delegates to truly understand their own leadership abilities and their inner drives to bring about social change. The participants also gained a fresh perspective on how to collaborate with new people to create an even more powerful impact.
Throughout the program, the delegates also had the opportunity to meet with Japanese food leaders and talk to them about their work, which made a significant impression on their understanding of the Northwest Food System. Going to 10 different site visits also helped the delegates appreciate the different challenges faced by the businesses in Seattle, and it enabled them to discuss innovative solutions for the food industry in both Tohoku and Seattle to revitalize their respective regions.
One of the highlights of the program included an event titled “Taste of Tohoku,” which was held on May 9. “Taste of Tohoku” was an exclusive pop-up dinner event serving multi-dish omakase style food, and was an experiential learning concept for our TOMODACHI delegates. The delegates worked closely with renowned Chef Asako Fukuda-Sullivan, with whom they not only cooked amazing food, but also engaged with local community leaders eager to learn about each of the delegate’s work.
Shinichi Chiba, the owner of Japanese sweets store Shokado Kashiten in Miyagi prefecture, commented, “This program has helped me solidify my vision of wanting the world to see Tohoku in a different light – to not just see the disaster that happened but to experience the beauty the region holds.”
Jiro Muraoka, a farm owner in Miyagi Prefecture, also commented, “The experience here in Seattle has helped me realize that I am not alone in the work I do and I now have a network of people who care deeply about bringing change in Tohoku.”
The delegates have returned to Japan with not only new ideas for their individual work in the food industry, but with a stronger commitment to being a part of a community dedicated to building a positive future for Tohoku.